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Celebrating the life of a Kelabit Educationist

POSING at an ancient Stone Slab which could be more than 1,000 years old.

PEMANCA Philip Lakai (left) welcoming Sarawak’s assistant Minister for Tourism
at the famous “Batu Rotong” Kelabit mausoleum.

PEMANCA Philip Lakai with his wife Jane Kijan Gerau in 2016.

PHILIP with the writer at the wedding of one of his grand-nieces.

A hill top view of SMK Bario secondary school.

ON February 27, 2018 Sarawak lost another iconic leader, Kelabit Pemanca Philip Lakai Tuan of Bario. At 74 and in the prime of his life, this Philip’s life story is that of the grit and sacrifice of a community living in the remote highlands, cut off from the rest of the world. Cikgu Philip was the second child of the Aristocratic family of Aran Ketuan who was one of the key Kelabit resistance army leaders who helped the Allied Forces fight the Japanese soon after Major Tom Harrisson and his special agents parachuted into Bario on March 25, 1945.

The circumstances of Philip’s birth in 1944 was tragic because his mother Supang Tingang, the daughter of Penghulu Tamabu Tingang of Ramudu, died soon after he was born. As such the infant who was given away for adoption to Agan Ketuan’s youngest brother Lawai Ketuan@ Udan Tuna. Philip was raised by Lawai Ketuan’s wife, Na’am Marah, who later had three sons Lun Aran, Bala Ngimat and Tilai Bala and a daughter Sinah Paran Gerauh.

A year after the demise of his first wife, Agan Ketuan who changed his name to Aren Tuan, married Sigang Katu @ Seleng Wan from Pa Mada and had a second son– Gerawat Nulun Tuan who was born in 1947. Sadly, Aren Tuan died two years after Gerawat was born and she remarried. Gerawat,71, who became the first Kelabit Headmaster from Bario in 1971 said: “Two years after my mother died we migrate to Lembaa’ (now known as Bario Asal) because she married Lawai Ira, a cousin of my father.

“Before I turned 12 my mother had another son, Jerry Roum Nulun. When Jerry was only two weeks old, tragedy struck again when our mother died of suspected internal hemorrhage.” In the meantime Philip was coping well with his adoptive parents who encouraged their son to attend the Pa Main primary school which was established by Major Harrison in 1946.

The school was run by an Indoneisan teacher Guru Paul Kohuan and Agan Raja @ Galih Balang who was the first Kelabit to read and write. In 1954 and at 10 years old, Philip attended primary One to Three before being sent to Tanjong Lobang school at Miri.

He was the first Kelabit to attend the school where he studied up till primary six and sat for his Common Entrance examinations in 1958. Three years later he passed his Junior Secondary Examinations before leaving for the newlyopened Bario primary school as a temporary teacher.

In 1963 Philip was selected to attend the two-year Grade 3A trainers training course at the Batu Lintang Teachers Training College and School (BLTC) and on his return he was sent to become “Guru Besar” (headmaster) of the newly opened Long Seridan primary school in 1965. As with all long-sacrificing teachers, he spent his first year as a trained teacher at Long Seridan attended by Kelabit and nomadic children. He was at Long Seridan when he proposed to and married his childhood sweet heart Jane Kijan Gerau who was also a BLTCtrained teacher.

Between 1973 and until 1979 he was sent to become the headmaster of two primary schools in Pa Dalih and Marudi. However, his main task was to help establish the foundations of the Bario primary school which later upgraded to a Lower Secondary School (up till Form Three) and finally a full secondary school.

In 1980 Philip was sent to Newcastle University for a yearlong course, where he obtained an Advanced Diploma in Education and on his return was attached to the Baram District Education Office in Marudi and later the Fourth Division Education Office in Miri until 1987.

Philip whose second name is “Ketuan Ribuh” was the headmaster of Government Primary School at Bakam, Miri before he took up the post of headmaster of the Sri Mawar Private Primary School in Miri. A career educationist, Philip whose second name is “Ketuan Ribuh” left for the Sri Sempurna Primary School in Kuala Lumpur for six years until 2004 and the Sri Nobel Primary School in Kelana Jaya where he retired a year later.

While he was being posted to some of the most remote schools all over Baram district to as far as Peninsular Malaysia, the disciplinarian had sure his family followed in his footsteps. All four of his children hold university degrees: Catherleen Audrey (Batchelor in Law); Dona, B.Sc. in Agriculture; Cecilia, M.Sc. (Environment) and Benedict a Batchelor of Science degree holder in Landscaping.

Among the large crowd who attended Philip’s funeral were family members including his siblings—Gerawat Nulun Tuan @ Maran Tapan, Ngalibun Aran, Lun Aran, Bala Ngimat, Sinah Paran Gerauh and Tilai Bala. Philip’s older sister Pun Bupun who was married to the first Kelabit teacher Agan Raja@Galih Balang@Edto Mengadih passed away in the year 2000.

The youngest of the “Ketuan” family sibling Tilai Bala, a retired graduate teacher who spoke at the funeral said: “In Pemanca we see a man who had earned his place in the annals of the Kelabit society: through his struggle, hardship, persistence, pure grit and sacrifice. He made it possible by charting the way forward for his siblings, children, nephews and nieces.

“In that, he was completely focused and would work tirelessly to make a difference for the bigger family and Kelabit community. Thus it is amply clear that Life transformation through education was his passion.” Philip’s legacy was that he was able to encourage his family members to pursue education as the mean of improving their standard of living.

Today at least 50 members of his family circle have graduated with Masters and other professional qualifications—an achievement beyond the expectations of the rural native community. Indeed Philip was a man with a great sense of humour, and despite the adversity of his last days was still able to smile.

Tilai added: “Even in sickness, Pemanca Ketuan Ribuh never lost his capacity to smile and even steal a laugh, or to inspire others to greater heights – that his energy and commitment to others was legendary – all this even as he fought hard and long with his nemesis, cancer.

“In the grip of this terrible cancer he would continuously provide ideas and comments for the betterment of the community. He was all about giving tirelessly to others and about creating a legacy of good governance for the Kelabits.” Note: Out of the present total population of 10,000 there are close to 1,000 Kelabit doctors, lawyers, engineers and educationists with PhDs, Masters and Batchelor degrees and students with Higher Diploma Education.

CHRONOLOGY: A Career in Education of Pemanca Philip Lakai Tuan

1944: Philip Lakai Tuan is born on August 31 at Pa Trap. He is the oldest son of Kelabit aristocrat Aren Tuan, a right hand man of Major Tom Harrison’s Kelabit “resistance” and army. 1946: The first Kelabit school is established at Pa Main in the Bario highlands by Major Tom Harrisson. The school’s first two teachers are Guru Paul Kohuan and the first Kelabit to study at Batu Lintang College and School Agan Raja from Pa Trap 1954: Philip Lakai Tuan attends the Pa Main school at the age of 10. 1957: Is the first Kelabit to be sent to Tanjong Lobang school in Miri 1958: Philip passes his Primary Six Common Entrance Examinations at Tanjong Lobang 1960: Bario establishes its first government-sanctioned primary school with classes up till standard three. The school is formally opened in January 1961 1961: Philip Lakai Tuan passes his Sarawak Junior Secondary Examinations at Tanjong Lobang School 1962: January 15—Philip Lakai who is an untrained teacher, is sent to be in charge of the Bario Primary school. 1963: Philip Lakai is sent to BLTC to become attend a two-year Grade 3A course to become a trained teacher. He is replaced by Roland Agan @Mustapha Raja Sewa as headmaster of Bario primary school. 1965: Philip Lakai qualifies as a trained teacher and is sent to Long Seridan Primary School as its headmaster. 1966-1971: Philip is headmaster of Bario primary school: 1972: Returns to Long Seridan as headmaster 1973: Headmaster of Pa Dalih school. 1979: Headmaster of SK Rumah Gudang in Marudi 1980: Philip Lakai Tuan is sent to the the University of Newcastle in United Kingdom for his Advanced Diploma in Education. 1981: Attached to the Baram Education District office 1982-1987: Attached to the Divisional Education Office in Miri 1993-1996: Headmaster of SK Sri Mawar in Miri 1998-2005: Headmaster of Sri Sempurna in Kuala Lumour 2006-2007: Headmaster of Sri Nobel International School in Kuala Lumpur 2007: Establishes the SK Sri Mawar in Miri 2008: Appointed “Penghulu” for the Kelabit of Bario 2015: Appointed “Pemanca” or paramount chief of the Kelabits after the demise of former teacher “Pemanca” Henry Jala who was also a headmaster at Long Seridan. 2018: Passed away in Miri on February 27

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